I am so glad I left a few days at the end of my trip to visit Madrid.
I had been to Madrid in high school for two weeks as part of a trip with my Spanish class, but of course that was quite some time ago.
After unpacking and settling down in my dorm room, I met Harriet, a nice girl from Germany who was also traveling alone. She told me she was going to see Carmen tonight at the theater around the corner from out hostel, and she invited me to join. At first I was hesitant- I had seen quite a bit of theater in London, maybe it was time for a break. I decided to go though – the Carmen opera and flamenco dancing is iconic of the region. I’m SO glad I went – it was incredible! The costumes and dancing were absolutely out of this world! And wow, Carmen is one crazy chick. Seriously, that girl has major issues. Awesome opera though – Harriet and I were both blown away. After we grabbed a beer and some tapas while discussing the awesomeness of Carmen.
The next morning I did a free walking tour of Madrid. Our hostel joined up with its sister hostel down the street for the walking tour. The tour guide was nice and funny, although I heard her admit to one person that she was a bit hungover since it was her birthday the night before.
We learned a brief history of Madrid, including its part in World War II and the Spanish Civil War. I wasn’t aware before of how big a Muslim population once existed in Madrid prior to the Inquisition. Apparently Moors from Morocco once dominated Madrid until the Christians went all nutty converty on them. Some of the Moors presense still affects Madrid though. Even Flamenco, which is such a rich part of Spanish culture, is derived from several influences – the guitar playing comes from Christian monks, the throaty singing comes from the Jewish chants, and the hand movements and hip swaying dances come from the gypsies.
I also learned some interesting info about Madrid’s symbol of a bear eating berries from a tree with seven stars. The seven stars are for the seven stars that make up the Ursa Major constellation (extra fact: Ursa is a female bear). Bears use to be abundant in the lands around Madrid apparently. Our tour guide claimed that all the animals loved to eat from a kind of tree whose berries would get the animals drunk, which she claimed perfectly represented Spanish lifestyle.
After the tour, I had lunch with some of the other travelers on the tour. We partook in the Spanish tradition of menus, where you pay a set price for a multi-course meal. This one was 10 euro and included a two-course meal, plus bead, a beer or sangria, coffee, and desert. I had a wonderful fried mushroom with aioli sauce, followed by a decent fillet with patatas fritas. Desert was flan. Throughout the meal I immensely enjoyed talking with the other people at the hostel, especially three irish girls who were hysterical. I knew I really liked them when one of them brought up the Sabrina the Teenage Witch flan episode.
These girls had the dirtiest mouths you can imagine, but they were absolutely hysterical, and very religious as it turns out (gotta love that Irish enigma). When they said they were going to head over to the Basilica for a quick prayer, I asked to join them. The rest of the travelers were completely confounded as to how these same girls, who were cussing like mad sailors and telling dirty stories, were also planning on visiting a church to pray. During our tour, the tour guide mentioned something about Pope John Paul, and one of the girls, Claire, exclaimed “Oh, Pope John Paul!” the other Irish girl said, “He’s her favorite Pope,” to which the sister responded, “Yeah, we’re Irish. We’re really Catholic.”
They were absolutely lovely, I had such fun with them! After the church we all headed to the Reina Sophia museum, which houses some great Picasa and Dali pieces, including Picasso’s huge and famous Guernica.
I absolutely love this painting- I could have stared at it for hours, watching it translate the horrors of war into something astonishingly real and palpable.
Dali is one of my favorite artists, so I loved seeing his work, but I’ll admit that both Picasa and Dali are artists whose pieces benefit tremendously from some kind of audio guide or expert insight. Unfortunately, since it was my last day and we didn’t have much time (we went when the museum is free, which is every day from 6pm-8pm), but I would have loved to stay longer and better understand the works.
After I headed back to the hostel, did some quick packing and got changed to go out. I knew it wouldn’t be a huge drinking night for me with my flight the next day, but I figured I should still go out – it was my last night of travels, and I had met such great people! We went out to a few different bars before I parted ways from the Irish girls. It’s a shame I couldn’t spend more time with them because we hit it off so well. Especially with Claire, who claimed me as her American soul friend, and I couldn’t agree more!
I started to head back with some Canadians, who also had to catch a flight the next morning. We decided as a final farewell we would take a detour and go take pictures with the large statue of Madrid’s icon – the bear eating the berries from a tree (which, as someone noted, looks an awfully lot like a piece of broccoli).
We had to climb up on the statue, as people took turns…ahem..”mounting” the bear so to speak. As we snapped pics, someone called up to us saying that we’d get arrested – apprently the police get pretty annoyed with people jumping up and getting dirty with the bear. We luckily just missed the police, who arrived shortly after we got down, thank goodness. Nothing says “I greatly respect your country and enjoyed my visit here immesnley” like dry-humping the city’s icon.
I never sleep well the night before a flight, so I got up nice and early to grab some churros and chocolate before the flight. It was so weird heading to the airport today. The end of my travels. Usually I feel some relief returning home, but honestly, I feel like I could keep going. If I’ve learned anything from this trip, it’s that I can handle traveling by myself, and that there is so much more to see in the world still!